Air to Air Refuel
Essentially Air to Air Refueling is similar to Formation flying. The Tanker will be flying in a pattern or on a defined route (e.g. along an airway) and jet aircraft or even formations will join the tanker and split from the tanker. If the refueling takes place in controlled airspace, ATC has to monitor and control the mission. In case the tanker is flying enroute, you will have to inform the next sector about the tanker formation and that Air to Air refueling takes place.
It is important to always keep 4000ft clear for the whole formation as depicted on the right. The tanker will be told to maintain a level block of 4000ft. In this example FL170 is the actual tanker flight level (the tanker pilot should know that he has to fly on the second highest level in the level block). FL160 can be used as an entry level in case there is no other jet within the tanker formation and the tanker is flying alone. If there are other jets, FL160 is used by these jets while they are standing by for refuelling or while they are waiting for their wingmen to refuel. Within the formation of the tanker there will be frequent positon changes to make sure that every aircraft gets fuel. If there are jets in the formation, FL150 will be used as an entry level similar to the paragraph "Formation Join Up". Arriving formations or jets will be cleared on FL150 before the visual join up is approved. FL180 has to be kept clear for leaving aircraft in case of a "Vertical Formation Split" or for evasive maneuvers.
In real life the ATC unit responsible for the tanker formation is a special working position (SWP). If the refuelling takes place enroute the SWP does not have its own airspace (similar to a Feeder in the APP airspace) but is delegated to control the tanker formation and all aircraft entering or leaving. Inside a refuelling area the area is controlled by the SWP but no other aircraft should enter that area unless it's for the purpose of refuelling or unless the tanker has approved. When an aircraft wants to join the formation, Radar will clear that aircraft to climb to the entry level (in our example FL150), give an intercept heading and then send that aircraft to the frequency of the SWP.
Other important notes:
- (if within refueling area) SWP is responsible for separation within the refuelling area. Crossing of the tanker pattern within a refueling area needs to be approved by the SWP
- ATC needs to increase the horizontal separation to the tanker formation by one NM just like with any other formation
- SWP is responsible for separation between tanker and receiver until the join up is approved
- (if enroute) Below the tanker formation the vertical separation should be 2000ft (in our example an aircraft that does not join the formation needs to be at FL130 or lower). In a refuelling pattern the whole refuelling area should be kept clear
Procedure for SWP:
- The Tanker needs to be informed about approaching receivers: "QID5 next receiver GAF123, single Eurofighter"
- The receiver needs to be informed about weather, position, HDG and FL of tanker and number of receivers in formation: "GAF123, weather conditions VMC, Tanker bearing 040, 35NM, FL190, H225, two aircraft in tow"
- The receiver also needs to be asked to check that the QNH/altimeter is set to standard.
- The receiver needs to be informed about the tanker position until the pilot reports the tanker in sight.
- When the receiver has the Tanker in sight, the receiver needs to be asked to set transponder on standby and change to the refuelling frequency (Boom operator or Boomer - no joke ;D). Furhtermore, the receiver has to be told to stay with the tanker and report back after refuelling: "GAF123, after refuelling stay with the tanker and report back on frequency 123.125.
- When one aircraft or formation wants to split from the tanker formation, it should be instructed to climb above the tanker (FL190) and then be instructed to follow a route or heading. Before that a route needs to be coordinated between the ATC sector and the SWP. SWP needs to make sure that this route is followed before the aircraft is transfered back to the ATC sector.
|GAF123||GAF123 request to join QID5 for refuelling|
|ATC||Roger, GAF123 fly HDG 050, climb FL150, contact Langen Radar 123.125 (SWP)|
|GAF123||GAF123 fly HDG 050, climb FL150, contact Langen Radar 123.125|
|On the SWP Frequency|
|GAF123||Langen Radar, GAF123 to join QID 5.|
|SWP||GAF123, Langen Radar, weather conditions VMC, Tanker bearing 040, 35NM, FL170, HDG 225, two aircraft in tow, confirm QNH standard|
|GAF123||GAF123 roger, QNH standard|
|SWP||QID5, next receiver GAF123, single Eurofighter|
|QID5||QID 5 Roger|
|SWP||GAF123 Tanker is 10 o'clock 6NM report in sight|
|GAF123||GAF123 in sight|
|SWP||GAF123 squawk standby, contact BOOM 360.8, after refuelling stay with the Tanker and report back on 123.125|
|GAF123||GAF123 squawk standby, contact BOOM 360.8, after refuelling stay with the Tanker and report back on 123.125|
|GAF123||Langen Radar, GAF123 finished refuelling, request clearance to XXXX|
|SWP||GAF123 squawk 2115|
|GAF123||GAF123 squawk 2115|
|SWP||GAF123 identified, climb FL 190, maintain own separation to tanker, when reaching FL190, turn left HDG 220|
Remember that SWP needs to coordinate the planned route/exit route from the refuelling area with the responsible ATC unit.